TAN Annual Meeting Slated for Oct. 18 in Dallas

TAN Annual Meeting Slated for Oct. 18 in Dallas

TAN’s annual meeting is almost here. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, from 10 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. at 14785 Preston Road in Dallas, the location of the offices of the Combined Group.

The meeting will include presentations on:

  • Regulatory issues of interest to nonsubscribers.
  • A deep dive into the results of the 2023 state legislative session.
  • Legal issues and court cases of interest (legal panel).
  • How the 2024 elections are shaping up.
  • The new Texas Business Court.
  • All things OSHA, and more.

The event is free to TAN members. Registration for the event is now open. Click here to register. Lunch will be provided.

DWC Proposes Changes to Death Benefits Rules

The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC), is proposing amendments to Title 28, Texas Administrative Code (28 TAC), Section 122.100, and new 28 TAC Section 124.8, concerning claims for death benefits. The amendments and new section allow eligible beneficiaries to file claims for death benefits with DWC or an insurance carrier and clarify an insurance carrier’s obligations for recordkeeping and notice to DWC. Existing rules require an insurance carrier to send a plain-language notice of potential entitlement to workers’ compensation death benefits to a potential beneficiary. The new section requires the insurance carrier to copy DWC on that notice. The rules implement Texas Labor Code Sections 408.182 and 409.007, which were amended by House Bill 2314, 88th Legislature, Regular Session (2023).

The proposed rules were published in the Sept. 29, 2023, issue of the Texas Register and is available at www.sos.state.tx.us/texreg/index.shtml. A copy of the proposed rules is on the TDI website at www.tdi.texas.gov/wc/rules/2023rules.html.

A public hearing on the proposed rules will be held at 11 a.m. Central time on Oct. 24, 2023.

You may submit written comments on the proposed rules to: RuleComments@tdi.texas.gov, or mail or deliver your comments to:

Legal Services, MC-LS
Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation
P.O. Box 12050
Austin, Texas 78711-2050

The deadline to submit comments is 5 p.m. Central time on Oct. 30, 2023.

Benchmarking Study Examines Claims Management in Workers’ Compensation

Identifying and addressing behavioral health and mental health issues and providing staff training on empathy are some of the significant ways workers’ compensation claims management firms differentiate themselves from less successful peers, according to an annual benchmarking survey from Rising Medical Solutions.

Rising’s 2022 Workers’ Compensation Benchmarking Study surveyed claims leaders and frontline claims professionals on their operational priorities, challenges, and opportunities, as well as strategies for improving claim outcomes.

The survey identifies how high-performing claims organizations distinguish themselves across 30-plus data variables to navigate persistent industry challenges. Other significant performance differentiators include:

  • Measuring injured worker satisfaction as a key metric of claims management effectiveness.
  • Harnessing performance-based strategies with staff and vendor partners.
  • Employing workflow automation and predictive and prescriptive analytics.

According to the survey, 55% of respondents use programs or resources to identify behavioral/mental health issues, with the most common strategy being questions used by claims or clinical resources to identify psychosocial risk factors. Additionally, 51% are leveraging programs or resources to address mental health issues, with the most common strategy being the implementation of a behavioral health or mental health specialty provider network, followed by the use of telehealth for behavioral health services.

The survey also shows that 59% of organizations include soft skills training for frontline claims professionals. However, only a third receive training on empathy — a critical skill when assisting people who are injured. Higher-performing organizations are more likely to leverage training across multiple soft skills, including customer service, active listening, communication skills, and empathy.

The report is available here.

90% of Companies Will Return to the Office by the End of 2024

Nine out of 10 employers surveyed recently say they will require workers to return to the office at least some of the time by the end of 2024. Although 72% of employers say return-to-work orders have resulted in improved revenue, just 19% say they will require employees to work five days a week in the office. That’s according to a survey of 1,000 company decision-makers by ResumeBuilder.com.

Among respondents whose companies have already returned to the office, 31% say they started requiring workers to come back in 2021, 41% in 2022, and 27% in 2023. Most respondents in this group say they have seen an improvement in revenue, productivity, worker retention, and more.

Eighty-three percent of respondents whose companies have returned to the office say they currently track employee attendance, and 70% of respondents whose companies plan to RTO in 2024 say they will also track employee attendance.

Of those currently requiring workers in-office, 71% say at least three-quarters of employees are required to work in-person, and 36% say employees are required to come in five days per week.

However, among respondents whose companies plan to implement RTO in 2024, only 44% say at least three-quarters of employees will be required to work in-person, and just 19% say five days per week will be required.

To encourage employees to return to in-person work, 72% of business leaders say their company will offer commuter benefits, 57% will offer childcare benefits, and 64% will provide catered meals. Additionally, 28% say their company will threaten to fire employees who don’t comply with RTO policy.

More information about the survey is available here.

Research Highlights Effects of Smoking on Workplace Injury Management Costs

Tobacco use and smoking has a profound impact on workplace injury management costs, as studies show smokers take longer to recover from injuries and are more inclined to engage in nonprescription opioid use.

Smoking is linked to heart and respiratory diseases and to several cancers. It also has a negative impact on the musculoskeletal system, increasing the risk of injury, poor healing and disease.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) has reported that smoking reduces the blood supply to bones, just as it does to many other body tissues. The nicotine in cigarettes slows the production of bone-forming cells (osteoblasts) so that they make less bone. Smoking decreases the absorption of calcium from the diet. Calcium is necessary for bone mineralization, and with less bone mineral, smokers develop fragile bones (osteoporosis).

The AAOS also reports that smoking seems to break down estrogen in the body more quickly. Estrogen is important for building and maintaining a strong skeleton in women and men.

The organization also found that smoking affects the other tissues that make up the musculoskeletal system, increasing the risk of injury and disease. Consider:

  • Rotator cuff (shoulder) tears in smokers are nearly twice as large as those in nonsmokers, which is probably related to the quality of these tendons in smokers.
  • Smokers are 1.5 times more likely to suffer overuse injuries, such as bursitis or tendonitis, than nonsmokers.
  • Smokers are also more likely to suffer traumatic injuries, such as sprains or fractures.
  • Smoking is associated with a higher risk of low back pain and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Smoking has a detrimental effect on fracture and wound healing.
  • Smokers also have a higher rate of complications after surgery than nonsmokers — such as poor wound healing and infection — and outcomes are less satisfactory. This is related to the decrease in blood supply to the tissues.

Study Reveals Positive Impact When Workers Understand Benefits Better

New research finds workers who understand their employee benefits are happier and have a greater sense of overall stability at work than those who don’t. According to the latest data from MetLife’s Employee Benefit Trends Study, 76% of workers who understand their benefits are happy and 82% believe their benefits give them a greater sense of overall stability — versus only 47% and 52%, respectively, who don’t.

This comes as employees say “being happy” is the most important aspect of their work experience (73%), followed by doing meaningful work and being successful. Some 50% of employees say having a better understanding of their benefits would make them more loyal to their employer.

The research also identified several barriers that frequently hinder comprehension, including:

  • Some 62% of employees say understanding how to use their benefits would give them a greater sense of overall stability, while 50% say having a better understanding of their benefits — what’s offered and what’s covered — would make them more loyal.
  • Nearly one-third of employees (31%) procrastinated when selecting their benefits last year, and 37% wish they’d had more time to make the right choices. One in six employees regrets their benefits elections from last year.
  • Nearly half of employees (44%) didn’t consult others before enrolling in benefits last year. This group was also less likely to fully understand their benefits and more likely to worry about unexpected health and financial issues.

The survey included 2,650 interviews with full-time employees aged 21 and over. All employees were based in the U.S. and were nationally representative. MetLife’s 21st Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study is available here.

Survey Shows Time Gap in Worker Pay Raises

Almost 4 in 10 American workers (37%) haven’t received a raise at their current job in the last three years, according to a recent survey of nearly 2,000 American adults by market research company OnePoll.

The survey asked workers when they last received a pay raise. Only 4% said they received a raise this year; 9% said they had a raise one year ago; 22% said it had been two years; and 37% said it had been three years.

Regarding pay disparities, 73% of all adults agree the gender wage gap is still very real. In fact, almost 6 in 10 working men believe their current salary is influenced by their gender (58%), compared to 54% of female employees.

When it comes to making a difference in the workplace, half believe speaking directly to management is the most effective way to pressure companies and bosses to improve work conditions and pay (51%). Many also think positive changes in workplace conditions could be achieved through labor/union strikes (49%), filing an HR complaint (40%), or posting on social media (36%).

Some 41% of respondents said they previously participated in a labor strike, while 47% had not. Of those who have participated in a strike, most protested for the following:

  • Better work schedules (68%).
  • Higher pay (58%).
  • Better health insurance (56%).
  • Better benefits (48%).

The poll also revealed generational differences among workers. Gen Z workers said they’re more concerned about nationwide worker strikes than the lack of job security (69% vs. 49%). Meanwhile, half of millennials surveyed were more worried about salary cuts (53%) than wage gaps (49%) and worker strikes (45%).

The Gen X and Boomer generations, however, had similar worries when it came to lack of job security (45% and 49%) and wage gaps (44% and 46%).

More information about the survey is available here.

Emergency Action Plan: Are You Prepared?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires almost every organization to have an emergency action plan (EAP) and has specific requirements that each plan must incorporate. BLR, a provider of management software and corporate training, provided the following information in a recent blog post.

OSHA’s minimum EAP requirements include detailed guidelines on how employees should respond to different types of emergencies, and include:

  • A means of reporting fires and other emergencies.
  • Evacuation procedures and emergency escape routes.
  • Procedures for employees who stay behind to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate.
  • A system for accounting for employees following an emergency evacuation.
  • Assigned rescue and medical duties for qualified personnel.
  • Names or job titles of people to be contacted following the evacuation.

Although not mandatory, OSHA suggests the plan include details about the emergency alarm system, a backup communications system, and a secure location to store accounting records, legal documents, and an emergency contact list, among other vital documentation.

Many aspects of an EAP are left to the decision of the individual organization. The following best practices may prove beneficial:

  • Identify probable emergencies that may occur in each facility and assess potential damage levels. These emergencies should include both natural and man-made incidents and account for as many scenarios as possible.
  • Use different alarms to indicate different emergencies to ensure your message is conveyed simply, effectively and quickly. For instance, one type of alarm could signal tornadoes, another fires, and yet another flash floods.
  • Have an alarm system that automatically notifies fire departments and other emergency personnel. If that isn’t possible, have several workers designated to manually call for help.
  • Have a well-thought-out evacuation plan and rehearse it. Important elements include:
    • Clearly marked escape routes and exits.
    • Secondary escape routes.
    • Plans to assist guests and disabled workers.
    • Designated safe areas.
    • Methods for accounting for evacuated workers.

Health Benefit Cost Increases Projected

U.S. employers expect total health benefit cost per employee to rise 5.4% on average in 2024, even after they make changes to their plans to slow cost growth, according to preliminary results from the National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans 2023 released by Mercer and Marsh McLennan.

Per-employee costs typically increased 3-4% per year during the past decade. Mercer attributes the projected increase in 2024 to ongoing developments in the health care market, such as the consolidation of health systems and the introduction of super-expensive gene and cellular therapies. Additionally, Mercer said there has been a sudden jump in the use of costly drugs used to treat diabetes and obesity.

The projected increase of 5.4% reflects changes that employers plan to make to hold down costs. If they made no changes, respondents indicated that the cost for their largest medical plan would rise by an average of 6.6%.

Mercer said many factors could be helping to temper cost growth — including strategies focused on improving patient outcomes. As employers have moved away from cost-shifting to employees, they have increasingly implemented longer-term cost-management strategies directed at the biggest drivers of cost — complex care and chronic medical conditions.

The survey found that employers will not increase employees’ share of the cost of coverage in 2024. According to organizations that responded to the survey, employees will be required to pick up an average of 22% of total health plan premium costs through paycheck deductions in 2024, unchanged from 2023 and 2022.

The 2023 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans was launched June 12. The preliminary results are based on responses from more than 1,700 employers that responded through Aug. 14. More than 1,900 employers ultimately participated and final survey results will be released in fall 2023.

More information about the survey is available here.

Air Quality in Workplace Important to Workers

One in 3 U.S. workers rate the indoor air quality in their workplace as “very clean,” according to a recent survey from Fellowes, a U.S.-based company providing workplace solutions, including air quality products. The survey included 1,085 U.S. and Canadian workers who work on-site indoors at least one full day a week. Canadian workers were even harsher, with only 25% rating their workplace air quality very good.

Nearly 9 of 10 U.S. respondents (87%) say clean indoor air helps them perform their best at work, which reflects research led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that links clean indoor air to increased cognition and productivity. About 1 in 3 U.S. respondents (34%) stated they would consider leaving their employment due to concerns associated with poor indoor air quality.

Respondents whose workplace was not considered very clean identified several factors contributing to poor indoor air quality, including:

  • Stagnant air or inadequate circulation — reported by 35% of these respondents
  • Humidity levels — 33%
  • Manifestations of mold, stains, dust and airborne particulates — 25%
  • Perceptible odors — 25%

ASHRAE, an organization dedicated to advancing well-being through technology in building systems, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and refrigeration in June released its first-ever standard for controlling infectious aerosols and maintaining healthy indoor air quality. The guidelines recommend a combination of clean air delivery rate and filtration levels equivalent to five air changes per hour (eACH) and higher, depending upon the space. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released similar guidance and encourages the use of HVAC systems with MERV-13 filtration or better, as well as HEPA air purification systems, to maximize air cleanliness.

More information about the survey is available here.

State News

Business Insurance
Grocery Store Employee Death Was Workers Comp Exclusive: Court
The family of a grocery store employee killed after being struck by a vehicle during a work break cannot sue the company for wrongful death because the injury and death were covered under workers compensation, a California appeals court ruled Tuesday. Click here for full article.

Business Insurance 
3.4% Loss Cost Reduction In Comp Premium Proposed For Colorado
The National Council on Compensation Insurance is recommending that Colorado regulators reduce advisory loss costs for the voluntary market by 3.4%, effective Jan. 1. Click here for full article.

Insurance Journal
Connecticut Eyes 9.8% Cut in Workers’ Compensation Costs
Connecticut workers’ compensation insurers are recommending an overall 9.8% reduction in loss costs in the voluntary market and a 10.5% overall reduction in the assigned risk market. Click here for full article.

New York State
Governor Hochul Signs Legislation to Support Workers by Protecting Employees From Mandatory Political and Religious Meetings, Strengthening Wage Theft Penalties, and Increasing Benefits for Injured Workers
Governor Kathy Hochul today signed a package of legislation to support, protect, and expand benefits for New York workers. Governor Hochul signed legislation (S4982/A6604) to prohibit employers from disciplining employees that opt not to participate in meetings about the employer’s political or religious views. Click here for full article.

Oregon Business
Oregon Workers’ Compensation Costs Expected to Keep Falling
Oregon employers will on average, pay $0.90 per $100 of payroll for workers’ compensation costs in 2024, down from $0.93 in 2023, according to information released this week by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. Click here for full article.

Wyoming News
Wyoming DWS Vows To Fight Workers’ Compensation Fraud After Recent Sentencing
The Department of Workforce Services is committed to upholding the integrity of Wyoming’s workers’ compensation system, according to a news release from the department. Click here for full article.

Wyoming News Now
Department of Workforce Services Workers’ Compensation Division Proposes A Significant Industry Base Rate Decrease To Support Employers
The Department of Workforce Services Workers’ Compensation Division proposes a significant decrease in workers’ compensation rates. For 2024, the overall rate indication is a decrease of 6.5% compared to the overall Industry Base Rates in 2023. Base rate changes at the class level will vary, but businesses may see up to a 20.1% decrease. Click here for full article.

General News

Fox 29
7 Questions You Should Ask After You’ve Been Injured At Work
Over 2.6 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses occurred in 2021, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number has remained consistent from year to year for several years in a row, highlighting how essential it is for employees to have protections in place that allow them to receive compensation for medical bills and lost wages. Click here for full article.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Fatalities in Oil and Gas Extraction Database, an Industry-Specific Worker Fatality Surveillance System — United States, 2014–2019
The U.S. oil and gas extraction (OGE) industry faces unique safety and health hazards and historically elevated fatality rates. Click here for full article.

Insurance Journal
Social Security Demands Billions From Workers’ Comp Recipients, Others for Overpayments
The Social Security Administration is trying to claw back billions of dollars in disability overpayments, many of them made to people who received workers’ compensation payouts for injuries, an analysis has found. Click here for full article.

Workers Compensation: Past, Present, and Future
The workers compensation system is healthy and strong. On behalf of the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), it feels great to be able to say that with confidence, especially as NCCI is celebrating its 100th Anniversary. Click here for full article.

Business Wire
Gradient AI Study: AI Reduces Legal Involvement in Workers’ Compensation Lost-Time Claims by 15%, Saving Insurers Millions
Gradient AI, a leading enterprise software provider of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions in the insurance industry, today announced the results of a comprehensive research study showing that AI-enabled workers’ compensation claims management reduced legal involvement for lost-time claims by 15%. Click here for full article.

AI Reduces Costs For Most Expensive Types Of Workers’ Comp Claims
Artificial intelligence can help reduce the legal involvement in lost-time workers’ comp claims by as much as 15%, which in turn can reduce costs for these claims by as much as 5%, according to a study of more than 200,000 claims by Gradient AI. Click here for full article.

How To Replace Your COVID-19 Vaccine Card And When You Still Need It
Your Covid-19 vaccine card should be included as part of your medical record, similar to your personal vaccination record, experts say. Click here for full article.

COVID-19 Has Changed And So Has Our Immunity. Here’s How To Think About Risk From The Virus Now
Covid-19 was never just another cold. We knew it was going to stick around and keep changing to try to get the upper hand on our immune systems. Click here for full article.

Yale Medicine
Comparing the COVID-19 Vaccines: How Are They Different?
COVID-19 is now in its fourth year, and the Omicron variant and its subvariants are still driving infections in cases in the United States. The good news is that vaccines are still expected to be effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. Click here for full article.

The Washington Post
Many Long-COVID Symptoms Linger Even After Two Years, New Study Shows
People who endured even mild cases of covid-19 are at heightened risk two years later for lung problems, fatigue, diabetes and certain other health problems typical of long covid, according to a new study that casts fresh light on the virus’s true toll. Click here for full article.

COVID Is Surging Again – You May Want To Mask Up In These 3 Scenarios, Says Infectious Diseases Doctor
While a new subvariant is causing increasing hospitalizations across the country and we await the updated Covid-19 vaccines, now may be a good time to put your mask back on, doctors say. Click here for full article.

ABC News
Why You May Want To Think Twice Before Throwing Out Those Old At-home COVID Tests
With COVID-19 cases rising across the country, you may be inclined to pull out one of those leftover at-home rapid tests received months ago from the Biden administration. Click here for full article.

Smart People First In Line For COVID-19 Vaccines, Study Suggests
Intelligent people get their COVID-19 vaccines much faster, suggests a study of more than 750,000 people in Sweden published in the Journal of Health Economics. Click here for full article.